Since reopening after the COVID-19 shut down, our clinics have seen a spike in back, neck, and hand pain from increased computer use at home. People have suddenly been relocated to laptops on kitchen counters, couches, or beds. These poor ergonomic situations combined with uninterrupted computer time have led to postural strain.
In the office setting, computer time and sitting activity are broken up by trips to other cubicles, long walks to bathrooms/ break rooms or walks to other offices. Home offices can be a much tighter set-up. Lack of movement is a big contributor to orthopedic problems. Here are a few tips to help you work from home without pain.
Adjust Your Office Chair for Good Posture
Sitting on the front edge of chair doesn’t usually work well. Your chair should allow you to scoot all the way back and have support in your lower back. A good adjustable chair works, but a towel roll or firm pillow can be used as well. From a side view, your ear should be in line with the tip of your shoulder, and your shoulder should be in line with your hip to allow you to relax into an upright position. The seat of the chair should support your thighs but not press into the back of your knees. The chair should allow your feet to sit flat on the floor. If the chair is too tall, then put something under your feet for support.
Set Up Your Computer Correctly
Your computer monitor should be at the correct height to limit neck strain. Ideally, your eyes should be at the same height as the top of the monitor. This is easy to do with desk top computers, but is more challenging with laptops. To modify your laptop consider using a laptop stand, separate keyboard, and an external computer mouse. Prolonged sitting with the head/neck in poor position is a set-up for headaches and neck pain.
Your keyboard should also be set-up correctly to limit wrist and hand pain. Ideally the wrist should be straight with forearms parallel to the floor and elbows in at the sides with a 90 degree bend.
Take Regular Breaks
Get up and move around every 20-60 minutes. If you have pain, then move every 10-15 minutes. Shrug your shoulders, turn your head side to side, reach overhead, stand up and bend backward, do wrist circles, get up and walk around. Pinch your shoulder blades together, tuck your chin toward your throat, and shift around. Our bodies are designed for movement, and when we don’t move our bodies think we’re asleep and start shutting down some blood circulation that leaves our tissues susceptible to strain. This is part of why we strain ourselves with sitting. Fun tip: use your computer or phone alarm as a reminder to move around every 20 minutes or so.
Resources for Additional Information
Some good information and illustrations by the University of Michigan can be found at: Computer Ergonomics: How to Protect Yourself from Strain and Pain | University Health Service.
Laptop specific tips and information can be found at: htps://www.scoe.org/files/ergo-tips-laptop.pdf.
We at Foothills Orthopedic & Sport Therapy hope that this information helps keep you out of trouble with musculoskeletal pain. However, if you do find yourself with an overuse injury we are here to help. Stay safe at home and stay pain free on those computers.